Would it be typical for a young Francophone child to make a mistake such as the following?

Voilà mon chanson.

To what extent is memorizing words' gender something that native Francophone children struggle with, versus coming naturally as native speakers?


Based on answers and comments I would like to contextualize. My 4-year old son has attended a French-immersion school since his second birthday and has heard fluent French at home since birth. I was startled when we were singing Je danse le boogie-woogie and he got chanson wrong.

  • This question is not specific to the French language but can be asked about any language with gender associated nouns. German, Spanish, Italian, etc. I'm not sure it belongs to linguistics.se either, maybe cognitivescience.se ? – None Jan 24 '14 at 7:52
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is not about French language. – None Jan 24 '14 at 7:52

French children are immersed in french language from their very first day. They listen to fairy tales that their parents read at night before sleeping, they watch TV, they ear adults speaking.

They always ear ma/ta/sa/la/une chanson, and never mon/ton/son/le/un chanson. They have no reason to associate chanson with incorrect gender.

If, like french children, you spend three or four years in a french-only environment, I bet that you won't struggle with gender anymore.

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    Oui, enfin Jane Birkin se plante encore régulièrement. – Édouard Jan 24 '14 at 9:35
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    @Édouard - Ça fait partie de son personnage. Jodie Foster se plante beaucoup moins. – mouviciel Jan 24 '14 at 10:19
  • My personal and professional experience contradict this. Saying that French children are immersed in French language from their very fist day is a fallacy. France is a multicultural country and French is not the mother tongue of all those born in France and of French nationality. Thinking that "French children are immersed in French language from their very first day... listen to fairy tales that their parents read ..." is a fairy tale that concerns a minority of people, this is the same in lots of countries, nothing special to French or to the French. – None Jan 24 '14 at 15:16
  • @Laure - Do you mean that children that are not immersed still get genders correctly? – mouviciel Jan 24 '14 at 15:52
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    Some can do, yes. It is not only a question of being immersed, language acquisition is a complex question, part neurobiological, part social, part motivation. Cognitivescience.se might have a more scientific approach than fr.se – None Jan 24 '14 at 16:00

My personal (and not researched) impression was that, for most common words, it comes naturally. Some rarer words (tentacule, e.g.) are an issue for children and adults alike.

One possible exception would be words which begins with a vowel, for which most determiners are written (and often pronounced) the same whatever the gender. In that case, kids might get them wrong for longer.

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    Many words that start with a vowel are notorious for causing trouble to adults too, especially if their ending is not strongly associated with a gender (and sometimes even though it is): aéroport, autobus, asphalte and escalier come to mind. – Circeus Jan 24 '14 at 3:21
  • There are even words which have switched gender. – Un francophone Jan 24 '14 at 9:09
  • @Circeus: Entirely agree with Circeus, one of the most common mistake in genders (from French people, whose mother tongue is French, I specify) is saying une ascenseur, and that is not a rare word. – None Jan 24 '14 at 15:19
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    @Laure Hell, I'm a copyeditor and I need to check the gender of asphalte every freakin' time! – Circeus Jan 24 '14 at 18:24
  • @Circeus: et tu es francophone, si ma mémoire est bonne ! Et ça ne touche pas que la francophonie, les germanophones éprouvent parfois les mêmes problèmes pour retenir le genre de certians noms, il n'y a pas de raison pour que le problème ne touche pas toutes les langues qui ont des noms sexués. Et ça n'empêche pas les gens de se comprendre. – None Jan 24 '14 at 19:05

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